Okeh 6893 – Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band – 1933

Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues. From Jazzmen, 1938.

The time has come once again to honor the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith.  I’ve already covered her life in some detail previously, so this post is dedicated to her famous last session.

Bessie Smith’s career flourished throughout the roaring twenties, but was hampered by the onset of the Great Depression.  Bessie made her final recordings for the Columbia label—for whom she had recorded since her debut in 1923—near the end of 1931, as the economy continued to dive.  After two years spent touring, record producer John Hammond brought her back to the studio for a session with Okeh (a subsidiary of Columbia since 1926).  For this session, Smith was paid a non-royalty sum of $37.50 (equivalent to around $690 dollars today).  With an all-star band led by pianist Buck Washington (best known as half of the popular vaudeville duo Buck and Bubbles) assembled to accompany her, the four sides cut at that session helped bring her style into the burgeoning era of swing.  That lone Okeh session, however, proved to be her last.  Smith made no further recordings between then and her fatal car accident four years later, and in that period of time faded into obscurity; by 1936 she was working as a hostess in a Philadelphia club.

Okeh 6893 was recorded on November 24, 1933 in New York City.  It was originally issued on Okeh 8949, this reissue dates to 1952.  In the band accompanying Bessie is the almost legendary lineup of Frank Newton on trumpet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Chu Berry on tenor sax, Buck Washington on piano, Bobby Johnson on guitar, and Billy Taylor on string bass.  Benny Goodman was recording in an adjoining studio that day, and sat in for this session, but I’m not sure if he can be heard on these two sides.  The songs on both sides were composed by Wesley “Sox” Wilson.

First up, Bessie is at her all-time best on the legendary “Gimme a Pigfoot”.

Gimme a Pigfoot, recorded November 24, 1933 by Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band.

Next, she gives another great performance on the classic “Take Me For a Buggy Ride”.

Take Me For a Buggy Ride, recorded November 24, 1933 by Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band.

Okeh 41577 – The Charleston Chasers – 1931

Jack Teagarden in marching band uniform. From Jazzmen, 1938, photo by Charles Peterson.

Jack Teagarden in band uniform. From Jazzmen, 1939, photo by Charles Peterson.

August 20 marks the day that we pay homage to that great trombone man from down in Texas, Jack Teagarden, who was born on that day in 1905.  In celebration of the occasion, here is a record that holds great significance in the development of swing music.  It is credited by Benny Goodman himself as the record that really saw him come into his own element, well on his path to becoming the King of Swing.

Jack was born Weldon Leo Teagarden in the small town of Vernon, Texas.  His father was an oilfield worker who played cornet in a brass band, and his mother played ragtime piano and church organ.  Jack took up the baritone horn, soon switching to trombone, his brothers Charlie and Clois chose trumpet and drums, respectively, and sister Norma learned piano.  In 1921, Teagarden joined Peck Kelley’s band in Houston, and was offered a position in Paul Whiteman’s band when the famous bandleader was passing through, though Jack opted to remain in Texas.  He made it to New York City in 1926, where he recorded with the orchestras of Ben Pollack, Roger Wolfe Kahn, and various bands organized by impresario Irving Mills, as well as numerous jazz bands led by the likes of Eddie Condon, Red Nichols, Hoagy Carmichael, and Louis Armstrong, establishing himself as the finest jazz trombonist of the age (and perhaps of any age), and a popular blues vocalist on the side.  In the early 1930s, Teagarden played with Benny Goodman’s orchestras, helping to percolate the early inklings of swing at its best, but in 1933, he signed a contract with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra for five years, preventing him from leading his own band as the swing era kicked off soon after.  Despite having fairly little opportunity for solo work with Whiteman, Teagarden was able to get in a bit of side work during that time, and started his own band after parting ways with Whiteman in 1939.  Though his orchestra lasted until 1946, it found little in the way of success.  After World War II, Teagarden played with Louis Armstrongs All-Stars, and toured internationally more than once, remaining a mainstay in the jazz scene until his death from pneumonia in 1964.

Okeh 41577 was recorded February 9, 1931 in New York City by the Charleston Chasers, under the direction of Benny Goodman.  It is a dub of the original issue on Columbia 2415-D (why they dubbed it, instead of master pressing, I couldn’t say, but I’m sure someone could.)  The almost unbeatable band features Charlie Teagarden and Ruby Weinstein on trumpets, Jack Teagarden and Glenn Miller on trombone, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Sid Stoneburn on alto sax, Larry Binyon on tenor sax, Dick McDonough on guitar, Arthur Schutt on piano, and Harry Goodman on string bass.  Jack Teagarden sings the vocals on both sides.  Unfortunately, some dumbbell thought it was a bright idea to carve an “X” into both labels.

Besides perhaps Louis Armstrong, “Basin Street Blues” is associated with no musician more than Jack Teagarden, who performed and recorded it a number of times.  It was in fact Teagarden and Glenn Miller who were responsible for adding the opening verse, “Won’t you come along with me. / To the Mississippi,” to Spencer Williams’ famous song.

Basin Street Blues

Basin Street Blues, recorded February 9, 1931 by the Charleston Chasers.

Also quite associated with Teagarden is W.C. Handy’s “Beale Street Blues”, which he recorded again soon after for Vocalion with Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang’s All-Star Orchestra.

Beale Street Blues

Beale Street Blues, recorded February 9, 1931 by the Charleston Chasers.

Okeh 8535 – Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five – 1927

That special time of year has come again that we celebrate the birth of the great Louis Armstrong, on the event of his 115th birthday.  Last year, we commemorated the occasion with his theme song, Sleepy Time Down South”.  This time around, we have even more excellence from Armstrong’s original Hot Five.

Louis Armstrong's Hot Five.

Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five (autographed to Muggsy Spanier).  Left to right: Armstrong, Johnny St. Cyr, Johnny Dodds, Kid Ory, Lil Armstrong.  From Jazzmen, 1939.

Louis Armstrong was born in the cradle of jazz, New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 4, 1901.  He grew up in a poor family in Storyville, and played witness to jazz in its infancy.  As a child, he made money working for a Jewish family by the name of Karnofsky, who came to treat him as one of their own.  Armstrong played as a youngster with the band of the New Orleans Colored Waif’s Home, and was instructed in cornet by Professor Peter Davis.  After leaving the home, Louis hauled coal by day and played by night, with all the jazz greats of New Orleans. “King of Cornet”, Joe Oliver, “Papa Joe” as Louis called him, came to be Armstrong’s mentor before heading north to play in Chicago in 1919.  He soon began playing in the famous brass bands of New Orleans, and on riverboats on the Mississippi.

In 1922, Armstrong received a request from Oliver to join him in Chicago.  Nervously, he obliged, and in that April, Armstrong made his first recordings with King Olivier’s Creole Jazz Band for Gennett Records.  With the Creole Jazz Band, Louis met piano player Lil Hardin, and before long the two were married.  It was Lil’s idea that Louis should leave King Oliver’s band; she believed his potential was wasted as a sideman to Oliver, and so he did.  In 1924, Armstrong left to work briefly with Ollie Powers’ band, before spending a year with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, and then with Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra (not to mention a number of other ventures on the side).  His biggest break came in 1925, when he formed his first Hot Five, and thus the first time he appeared on records as leader.  Through the rest of the 1920s, Armstrong kept busy playing and recording prolifically.  After some work with Carroll Dickerson’s orchestra in ’29, Louis left for California in 1930 to play a gig at Sebastian’s New Cotton Club in Los Angeles, California, fronting Les Hite’s orchestra.

Following that engagement, he traveled from place-to-place for a period, from back to Chicago, to home in New Orleans, to California again, before embarked on a much celebrated tour of Europe in 1933.  When he returned to the states in 1935, his fame was only on the rise.  After playing swing and jazz into the post-war era, and in 1947, he assembled his All-Stars, as a revival in “dixieland” came about.  Armstrong remained steadily popular until his death in 1971.  From the 1920s into the 1960s, Armstrong his inimitable mark on music, and cemented his place as one of the greatest jazz musicians, and most beloved American icons, of all time.

Okeh 8535 was recorded December 13, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois.  The Hot Five consists of Louis Armstrong on cornet, Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Armstrong on piano, and Lonnie Johnson on guitar.  This was the last session by the “original” Hot Five, in 1928 Armstrong organized a new group made up from members of Carroll Dickerson’s orchestra, including Earl Hines and Zutty Singleton.

Now, no matter what the question may be, the answer is right here for you, “Hotter than That”.

Hotter than That

Hotter than That, recorded December 13, 1927 by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.

On the flip-side, they play Kid Ory’s composition, “Savoy Blues”.

Savoy Blues

Savoy Blues, recorded December 13, 1927 by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.

Okeh 41403 – Casa Loma Orchestra – 1930

Before the swing era commenced, you could get an earful of the burgeoning genre from a number of bands.  One was Fletcher Henderson’s band, one of the earliest to start swinging music.  Another one was the Casa Loma Orchestra, who played swing outright as early as 1930.  Today, on the 110th 116th birthday of leader Glen Gray, we’ll hear from them.

The Casa Loma Orchestra got its start in 1927 in Detroit as the Orange Blossoms, managed by Jean Goldkette.  After an eight month gig at the Casa Loma Hotel in Toronto, they became known as the Casa Loma Orchestra, though they were not actually a house band at the hotel.  They first began recording in 1929 for Okeh, with ultra-modern arrangements by band member Gene Gifford.  The band incorporated in 1930, with all members as part-owners, and they ran a tight ship.  In the early years, they were fronted by Henry Biagini, but Glen Gray assumed the spot later on.  Switching to Brunswick, then to Decca, they became one of the leading bands in the United States by the start of swing era, and held that position into the 1940s.  After the close of the swing era, the Casa Loma Orchestra continued to play into the early 1960s, mostly remaking swing hits in hi-fi on Capitol Records.

Okeh 41403 was recorded February 11, 1930 in New York City.  The Casa Loma Orchestra consists of Hank Biagini directing Joe Hostetter, Fred Martinez, and Bobby Jones on trumpet, Pee Wee Hunt and Billy Rauch on trombone, Glen Gray and Ray Eberle on alto sax, Pat Davis on tenor sax, Mel Jenssen on violin, Joe Hall on piano, Gene Gifford on banjo and guitar, Stanley Dennis on string bass, and Tony Briglia on drums.  Both sides were arranged by Gene Gifford.

First up, they play it hot on on “China Girl”.

China Girl

China Girl, recorded February 11, 1930 by the Casa Loma Orchestra.

Next up is an even hotter rendition of Wingy Manone’s “San Sue Strut”.

San Sue Strut

San Sue Strut, recorded February 11, 1930 by the Casa Loma Orchestra.

Okeh 40843 – Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra – 1927

This time last year, following much (internal) debate, we celebrated the day of Benny Goodman’s birth.  Now, come May 30th once again, it’s time to give Mr. Frankie Trumbauer his time in the spotlight, on his 115th birthday.

Frankie Trumbauer was born of Cherokee heritage in Carbondale, Illinois on May 30, 1901, the son of musical director.  Tram took up the C-melody saxophone, and played early on with Ray Miller and Edgar Benson, and the Mound City Blue Blowers.  He later became an important member of Jean Goldkette’s orchestra around 1926, and brought Bix Beiderbecke along with him.  While working with Goldkette, and later with Paul Whiteman, Trumbauer led his own orchestra on a series of legendary jazz records for Okeh, with Bix, Eddie Lang, and other important jazzmen often in the band.  Much of the music he recorded in that period is considered a predecessor to cool jazz.  After finishing his engagement with Okeh, Trumbauer’s orchestra recorded for a number of other labels.  During World War II, Tram took leave from music to fly for North American Aviation.  After the war’s end, he continued to record sporadically, but never so much as he had before.  Frankie Trumbauer died of a heart attack in Kansas City, Missouri in 1956.

Okeh 40843 was recorded May 13, 1927 in New York City.  The band features the astounding talent of Bix Beiderbecke on cornet, Bill Rank on trombone, Frankie Trumbauer on C-melody saxophone, Don Murray on clarinet and baritone sax, Don Ryker on alto sax, Irving Riskin on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar and banjo, and Chauncey Morehouse on drums and harpophone.  Unfortunately, this classic disc is marred by a tight but troublesome crack that I was able to clean up quite a bit, but a few thumps and clicks are still scattered around here and there.

Arguably one of the most important and influential sides by Tram and Bix is “I’m Coming Virginia”, with Eddie Lang’s distinctive guitar adding a great deal to the already outstanding ensemble.

I'm Coming Virginia, recorded

I’m Coming Virginia, recorded May 13, 1927 by Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra.

On the flip, the Creamer and Layton standard “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” is given superb treatment by Tram, Bix, and the gang.

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, recorded

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, recorded May 13, 1927 by Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra.